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$4,000 for Injuries After Prison Staff Ignore Bottom Bunk Directive

by Lonnie Burton

On August 18, 2015, the state of Michigan agreed to pay a prisoner $4,000 to settle a lawsuit in which prison staff deliberately ignored a medically-issued "bottom bunk detail" and the prisoner later fell from the top bunk injuring his shoulder.

Timothy Murphy had been incarcerated in various facilities in the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) since at least 2007, where he had been under physicians' care for severe and chronic back pain. As such, Murphy had always been assigned to a lower bunk due to his limited mobility and vision problems. Soon after arriving at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in 2012, however, Murphy was moved to a top bunk. The next day he went to the prison infirmary and obtained a "Medical Detail Order," directing that Murphy be assigned a lower bunk.

Murphy presented the detail to unit staff, including the lone defendant in this case – Assistant Unit Supervisor Lori Bonn – but was not moved to a bottom bunk. Bonn allegedly told Murphy, "You've already been moved once, you're not moving again."

Almost four weeks later, while getting down from his top bunk, Murphy's vision became blurred, he lost his footing, and fell to the ground "hitting his right shoulder solidly against a concrete desk," according to the complaint.

Murphy still was not moved to a bottom bunk until five days after his fall, and only a day after initiating a grievance over the matter. X-rays revealed that Murphy suffered a rotator cuff injury as a result of the fall, and he was put on several medications. Murphy also alleged the injury made it extremely painful to do everyday activities or play sports, exercise, or do his art work.

He filed suit in the United States District Court in the Western District of Michigan claiming that Bonn was deliberately indifferent and grossly negligent to his medical needs, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution under 42 U.S.C. Sect. 1983. Murphy also alleged state law violations under MCL 691.1407(2), and asked for $75,000 in damages.

After two years of litigation, the parties agreed on a $4,000 settlement, which also included a provision that the MDOC will pay for an independent review of Murphy's shoulder injury and follow whatever course of treatment is ordered as a result.

The settlement amount includes all costs and attorney's fees and is subject to an offset for any court costs or restitution owed by Murphy. Daniel Manville of the MSU College of Law Civil Rights Clinic represented Murphy in the case.

See: Murphy v. Bonn, Case No. 2:13-cv-00220 (U.S.D.C. WD MI).


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Related legal case

Murphy v. Bonn